Posted on April 19, 2019 in Personal Injury
The old adage “what goes up must come down” applies to
virtually every object on Earth including bullets. When a bullet travels
through the air, the air resistance around the bullet and the force of gravity
inevitably bring the projectile to the ground. The firing arc and speed of
travel determine the effective range and potential damage of a bullet. All
firearm owners should know the dangers of discharging weapons into the air and
how falling bullets work from a physics and aerodynamics-focused perspective.
The Science Behind Falling Bullets
The muzzle velocity of a weapon determines how fast the
bullet leaves the weapon. For example, the AK-47 fires around at about 1,500
miles per hour or 670 meters per second. The force of one round is equivalent
to a brick thrown from 30 stories, concentrated in a tiny point of the tip of
the round. This is a tremendous amount of force in a very small amount of
space, easily enough to kill or seriously injure a human being.
Thanks to air resistance, the velocity of a bullet drops as
soon as it leaves the barrel of the weapon. A bullet fired directly into the air
at 1,500 miles per hour would eventually slow down and start falling back to
Earth, reaching terminal velocity of about 150 miles per hour. This may only be
a fraction of the bullet’s original velocity, but the force behind 150 miles
per hour is about 200 feet per second, easily enough force to cause a severe or
Wind speed and direction also influence bullets’ flight
patterns. Professional sharpshooters and military snipers learn to gauge wind
speed by looking at swaying tree branches or flags and measuring wind force in
a target area. For example, a sniper may need to aim to the left or right and
slightly above a target, compensating for the arc of the bullet’s travel path
as wind and drag from air resistance act upon the bullet in flight. The longer
the shot, the more the shooter will need to compensate for these forces.
Falling Bullet Injury Statistics
While it may sound like the chances of randomly suffering an
injury from a falling bullet are remote, the reality is that these injuries are
more common than people realize. This is especially true in areas with high
concentrations of firearm owners and traditions of celebratory shooting.
Most falling bullet injuries and deaths do not occur from
hunting or target shooting accidents, but from celebratory shooting directly
into the air over populated areas. City leaders in Florida communities
including police officials and shooting victims spoke out against celebratory
shooting during New Years’ celebrations, citing numerous injuries and deaths in recent years.
In Iraq in 2003 more than 20 people suffered injuries from
celebratory shooting after the deaths of Saddam Hussein’s sons. That same year,
Serbian wedding guests accidentally shot down a small airplane. These are just
two examples of serious injuries that can occur from shooting into the air.
Celebratory shooting into the air typically accounts for almost 60% of all shooting-related injuries and deaths
during celebratory events. The odds of suffering falling bullet-related
injuries may be relatively low for most Americans, but these accidents can and
do occur and victims should know their rights to legal recovery.
Liability for Falling Bullet Injuries
Obviously, liability for an injury caused by a falling
bullet would fall to the shooter. However, locating and identifying the shooter
for a falling bullet injury can be very difficult. During high winds, a bullet
fired straight up could potentially fall several miles away. The victim or the
victim’s family would need to link the reported time of the injury to the time
of nearby shooting. Ballistics tests could then link the bullet to the original
shooter, and the shooter would likely face civil and criminal charges for
causing an injury due to celebratory or otherwise negligent shooting.
Firing a weapon into the air and injuring or killing another person could easily lead to reckless endangerment charges and firearms violation charges. The victim or the victim’s family would also have the right to pursue a civil lawsuit against the shooter to recover medical expenses, property damage, pain and suffering, wrongful death, or other damages. Ultimately, it is never wise to fire a bullet into the air in celebration.